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FOCUS: Radical reverend finds new home (Dec. 2017)

December 15th, 2017 · No Comments

Cheri DiNovo leaves politics for ministry at Trinity-St. Paul’s

GEREMY BORDONARO/GLEANER NEWS After 11 years in provincial politics, Cheri DiNovo is returning to the Annex and her ministerial roots. She performed the first legalized same-sex marriage in North America when she was a minister at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church.

By Geremy Bordonaro

After serving 11 years in the provincial legislature, the Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) is returning home to the Annex, where she will become the new minister for Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, effective January 1.

“It was time. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that I stayed at for more than ten years, including owning my own company,” said DiNovo. “The perfect church came up, which is Trinity-St. Paul’s. It’s the perfect mix for me of faith, justice, and the arts.”

“This is a community that is very, very excited about her coming” —James Holzbauer, member, Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church

It took the church a long time to find the perfect candidate. Following a process called “listening to the spirit”, the church considered what they value, what they are passionate about, and who they are as a congregation.

“We’re a very inclusive, very progressive, affirming congregation in the downtown city of Toronto,” said church member James Holzbauer, who was also a member of the selection committee. “We have been well aware of Cheri’s ministerial work at Howard Park United prior to being elected to [the legislature]. And we were all very well aware of the types of initiatives that she has so successfully championed…all of them fit our value base just like a glove.”

DiNovo fought for LGBTQ2S rights during her time as MPP, and her final bill was to recognize November 20 as a Transgender Day of Remembrance.

“Here’s a church that has been affirming of queer people since the 1970s, even considerably before the United Church of Canada ordained openly gay and lesbian people in 1988,” DiNovo said. “When the church decided that, they lost a third of their members, that’s how contentious it was. You can imagine what kind of backbone it took for a church in Toronto to stand up for queer rights.”

“We have a lot of queer people in the congregation,” said Holzbauer. “A lot of us had read Cheri’s book on queering evangelism. We’re very impressed by that. She had put a stained glass window of a trans woman in Howard Park United years before anyone else had. She was way ahead of that curve.”

DiNovo is an expert in Queer Theology.

“Queer theology…presumes inclusion,” explained Dr. Natalie Wigg-Stevenson of Emmanuel College. “It’s about how we can imagine the Christian tradition from a queer perspective.”

So, when DiNovo’s name was brought up for selection, it was hard for the congregation not to get excited.

“When this whole situation started, I was in the Philippines. We received Cheri’s application and I’m surprised people here didn’t hear me shout with joy from 7,000 kilometres away,” Holzbauer said. “She is just really the perfect candidate for us.”

DiNovo grew up in the Annex on Bedford Road in a boarding house run by her family, “a far cry from the chi-chi Bedford Road of today,” she noted.

She was ordained in 1995, and soon became known as the Radical Reverend for her trailblazing ways.

She performed the first legalized same-sex marriage in North America at Emmanuel Howard Park United Church, before the law changed.

“At that point the church didn’t back me,” she said. “The government threatened to take away my licence.”

DiNovo is looking forward to taking up her new ministry in the new year and continuing the progressive tradition Trinity-St. Paul’s is known for.

The congregation is equally excited. “This is a community that is very, very excited about her coming. So stay tuned,” Holzbauer said. “We’re pretty darn good at what we do at the moment and I think we’re just going to be even better. I can’t wait and I know a lot of others can’t either.”

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